You know you’re onto a good thing as a business owner when you’re offering a hard day’s labour and have people knocking on your door asking for a job.
It’s a scenario Paul McGorman, of Thornby Premium Lamb, had hoped would become a reality ‘one day’ but with foresight and a grant from the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program (SARMS), he says “he’s now living the dream ahead of schedule”.
The family lamb feedlot at Sanderston, north east of Adelaide, had 31 yards with an annual turnover of 30,000 lambs when it received a $250,000 grant from the SARMS Regional Development and Innovation Fund in 2015.
Buoyed by the grant and a win at Australia’s Best Lamb competition the previous year, Paul, brother Alex and father John decided to go “all in” on a fast-tracked onsite expansion with a total investment of more than $600,000.
Fast forward to 2018 and the family farm is literally booming. They now have 55 yards with an annual turnover of 60,000 lambs, a new feed mixer, weekly shearing, more grain storage and a dozen full-time staff.
In fact, working conditions in the newly renovated sheep yard are so good staff have spread the word to their friends who are keen to get on board.
“The benefits from the upgrade at the handling yard have been huge,” Paul said.
Above the sheep yard is a sprawling 25m x 30m steel and corrugated iron structure which offers relief from the harsh sun, bitter wind and damp cold to those working up a sweat below.
“It’s manual labour but the new shelter makes it so much better for both staff and livestock – we’ve had really positive feedback about it and in fact, I’ve had enquiries from people who want to work here just through word of mouth,” he said.
“The shelter plus the new livestock handling equipment and loading ramp – we can load 400 lambs within 40 minutes in a way that’s safer and less physically demanding.
“It has really made a difference.”
So marked is Thornby’s growth and supply capacity, they’ve moved away from the wholesale market to focus on having their premium meat sold under their own premium brand at butchers across the State, and eventually, Australia.
Thornby’s recently created a full-time sales and marketing position to do just that.
“We moved away from wholesale because we wanted a dedicated person with Thornby’s interests at the centre of their work – we wanted that person to be as passionate as we are about our products,” Paul said.
“We’re looking at other marketing options too, not just whole lamb carcasses to butchers but retail-ready packs, consumer-ready packs and ready-to-eat meals.
“There’s a lot going on in the background now that’s really exciting.
“The SARMS grant helped us to scale up, move forward and fast track our operations – to know we had the capacity behind us with the grant really gave us the confidence to go in this direction.”
SARMS is contributing to the South Australian Government’s commitment and implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The RDIF grants program is supporting the sustainability of South Australian River Murray communities through investment in regional development and economic diversification in the region.